When Donald Trump’s secretary of defense, James Mattis, was called before the Senate Armed Services Committee this week to testify about the conflict in Afghanistan, he was unusually blunt: “We are not winning in Afghanistan right now,” he said. The Taliban have been on a dramatic offensive, he acknowledged, the security situation continues to deteriorate, and the Afghan government holds considerably less territory than it did a year ago. In other words, prospects for any sort of positive outcome are as remote as they have been in this sixteen-year war—the longest war in American history.
Armed with passion rather than guns or rocket launchers, a former drug addict from Swindon has single-handedly persuaded more than 22,000 Afghan farmers to stop growing opium poppies and cultivate mulberries instead.
The Trump administration’s Afghanistan policy review provides an opportunity to confront a central truth: No strategy, even with more troops, will succeed without reducing Pakistan’s support for the Afghan Taliban and the affiliated Haqqani network that is responsible for some of the deadliest attacks against the United States and its partners in Afghanistan.
On June 6, 2017, when the Afghan government hosted the first meeting of the Kabul Process for security and peace cooperation, terrorists carried out a suicide attack on the ancient Great Mosque of Herat, killing ten fasting worshipers and wounding over 20 others. This followed back-to-back terrorist attacks that killed and injured more than 700 innocent civilians in Kabul in less than a week. In flagrant violation of the core tents of Islam, a religion of peace and tolerance, and the key principles of international humanitarian law, this and many other terrorist attacks on Muslims and non-Muslims around the world have been carried out during the Holy Month of Ramadan.
Before the English came to the Indian subcontinent, modern-day boundaries did not exist in the AfPak region. In particular, China, Afghanistan, and Pakistan had a long tradition of interactions. In fact, two ancient empires — the Kushan and the Hephthalite empires — who ruled most of today’s AfPak region originated from China. The Kushans, known as the Yuezhi in Chinese, are believed to have come from modern-day Gansu, China. The Hepthalites (or Yada in Chinese) are also considered to have migrated from China into Afghanistan. These two tribes built two strong empires one after another in the AfPak region.
Last Wednesday, the deep thump of the bomb woke me up, shaking my bedroom and sending the dogs in the garden into frantic barking. Looking out over Kabul from my roof, a plume of smoke offered a vague sense of direction of the explosion. Social media lit up: Wazir Akbar Khan.
Afghan president Ashraf Ghani referred to Pakistan nine times in his 36-minute speech at the Kabul Process conference on June 6, a one-day meeting between the Afghan government and representatives of 27 countries and international organizations charged with restarting a peace process in this violence-torn country. While Ghani’s central demand was to urge the world community to act on its “promise” to fight terrorism and help Afghans in responding to the threat of terror, he stressed on Islamabad’s disinclination to genuinely commit itself to peace in Afghanistan.
Last Wednesday, a tanker truck, one of many that carry empty septic tanks in Kabul, a city with no sewage system, navigated through bumper-to-bumper traffic past the Afghan intelligence agency’s compound, the residence of former President Hamid Karzai, and the Iranian and Turkish embassies, to Zanbaq Square. Video from a surveillance camera shows that police halted the driver at a checkpoint as he tried to turn into the city’s diplomatic quarter.
Lost in the cascade of stories of potential White House criminality and collusion with foreign governments is the Erik Prince affair. It is reported that Prince, the brother of controversial Education Secretary Betsy Devos who established his power in Washington with his mercenary army Blackwater during the Iraq war, met with Russian intermediaries in an obscure Indian Ocean archipelago to establish back-channel communication with Moscow, possibly in coordination with the efforts of Jared Kushner, who last week was reported to have sought a White House back channel to the Kremlin.